The course suggests several practices essential to doing Shalom in urban contexts. What other practices of Shalom are pivotal in an urban missional contexts?
Name and comprehensively describe at least 2. Each practice must be explored from a biblical, sociological and missiological angle, whilst keeping shalom and cities as the focus.
What is Shalom and why is it important in the urban context?
Shalom is a word in Hebrew that means peace, harmony, wholeness, completeness, tranquility, welfare and prosperity. The word Shalom can be used in idiomatic fashion to imply both goodbye and hello. What Shalom essentially refers to is the establishment of peace between two or more entities. It particularly refers to the peace that man arrives at in his relationship with God. Shalom can also allude to the peaceful coexistence between two countries, and to the safety or welfare of an individual or society. The practice of shalom forms an integral aspect of rural and urban social life. In an era that is characterized by rapid globalization, the implementation of shalom becomes crucial for harmonious urban living. The United Nations states that the global urban population is likely to witness a massive growth, by as much as fifty to seventy percent in the next twenty years. This shift in demography makes clear the fact that Christianity, a religion which has in-depth involvement in, longstanding theological concern for as well as a comprehensive understanding of the urban context, has to deepen or broaden its perspective on all modern urban trends. It also has to increase its engagement with the process of urban development, in order to play a contributing role in meeting challenges associated with the global urban future, as bearers if none other than the Holy Gospel and as instruments of God’s grace. This essay takes a look at two essential practices of urban shalom, namely the practices of kindness and leadership and analyzes these two practices from a biblical, sociological and missiological standpoint.
Kindness is undoubtedly an underrated practice of shalom in the urban setup. Kindness is often equated with pleasantness or niceness and people regard the act of kindness to be something that involves smiling, trying to get along with one another and avoiding arguments of any sort. The Bible however presents a compelling and very different portrait of kindness. When St Paul argued in the Church of Corinth about being a true apostle of Christ he stated all the trials that he had endured for gospel’s sake, the spiritual life that God had granted him in spite of such suffering and the spiritual fruits that God produced for him. Kindness was one of the many spiritual fruits mentioned by Paul. The act of being truly kind is something that is produced by the human spirit. It entails the supernatural and generous orientation of the human heart towards other people, at times even when such people are not deserving of love and kindness. The purpose of God’s kindness is to guide people to their repentance. This essentially implies that people have not turned to God as yet and are therefore his enemies still. God’s kindness is imitated by people in the urban setup by attempting to at least, if not fully succeeding in, loving one’s foes. Jesus had stated that his followers should love their enemies, expect nothing in return and the rewards for this would be great. Human kindness for Jesus was something that reflected the heart of his father, God. For him therefore people need to be kind and forgiving with one another in just the same way that God in Christ always forgave human beings for their sins. The practice of kindness is not always a pleasant or easy task and at times, it can end up feeling like a bane. When Jesus refereed to the Pharisees as a brood of vipers, it was not a pleasant thing to do at all, however it was kind in the sense that Jesus exposed the sins of the Pharisees by referring to them as such. A kind doctor often has to cut quite deep in order to remove a tumor. In the urban context, people can practice Shalom by being kind to their rivals and competitors. They should learn to acknowledge and point out the sins of those who hurt them and thus make it known to those hurting them that what they are doing is wrong. Kindness and compassion should be especially be shown to the oppressed, the vulnerable and the needy. By showing compassion and kindness in urban life, people can be sure of finding a place for themselves in God’s heart. People need to take time out of their busy schedules and pay attention to whether individuals around them are suffering or not, and in the event that they are, extend their kindness and support to such individuals.
The Practice of Kindness in Urban Shalom
While kindness as a form of human behavior has been ignored by sociologists to quite a considerable degree, in urban life people tend to know what kindness is when they see it and feel it. According to prominent social researchers, there are four important attributes of ordinary day to day kindness in the city that make it an act that is sociologically relevant. These are its atmospheric potential, its infrastructural quality, its inter-personal or micro focus and its unobligated character. The atmospheric quality of kindness is not really a maelstrom effect as it is often referred to, a concept that is associated with any and every type of urban living. However, it can subtly alter the way people feel and what they do. In urban life, the atmospheric quality of kindness is something that can be witnessed through everyday activities like help and support. Small but genuine acts of kindness thus play a crucial role in understanding what city living is all about. By showing empathy, sympathy and kindness for one another, people can thus ensure the genuine practice of urban shalom. They need to be there for their fellow human beings in times of crisis, provide support in financial terms or in kind, depending on their individual capacity, and speak out on behalf of those who are undermined or treated with indignity in everyday urban living. Also, in spite of cultural tropes like randomness, any sociologically adequate and detailed account of kindness must recognize the manner in which this behavior is socially embedded as well as differentiated in the urban framework.
The practice of kindness as an aspect of urban shalom is something that has missiological origins as well. Missionaries in the course of their work in developing and underdeveloped countries of the world, particularly in the countries of Africa and Asia, have shown kindness to the oppressed and the needy by supporting healthcare initiatives for those who are not able to afford it, by raising funds to feed thousands of people going hungry and by treating marginalized sections of people with the dignity they deserve. Urban shalom can therefore be ensured especially through the practice of kindness when people engage in social or charity work, when they donate funds for educating orphans or for building hospitals for the poor, and when they contribute in a small or large way towards making sure that even homeless people get to have two square meals in a day. In order to achieve shalom as a part of everyday urban living people need to consider making time for those who need them rather than remaining selfishly pre-occupied with their own goals and aims. Performing community service constitutes a vital component of urban shalom. Doing community service requires people to show kindness to those who really need their help and support. Working in an old age home or in an orphanage will entail the demonstration of kindness when taking part in activities like serving people their meals or tending to those who are sick.
The demonstration of leadership in social life comprises an important and valuable aspect of urban shalom. Leadership is a human act that has biblical origins. Luke’s writings in the Book of Acts for instance helps in understanding how local congregations during the period of Christ were developed and spread and how new leaders readily stepped up to challenges that were put forth by the Great Commission. Lucas shows very clearly through his writings how the work of god and the work of the gospel require the demonstration of faithful leadership. While leadership development did not really constitute the essence of his work, Luke addressed varied angles of leadership by providing ample illustrations of God’s choice to flawed and weak vessels for accomplishing all his work. For Lucas leadership is something that can be understood through a theological and well-integrated vision of God and all the work that he does here on earth. The Book of Acts authored by Lucas chronicles the gradual emergence of various different churches as well as church leaders who played an important role in planting and shaping these churches. Contours of leadership are thus well presented by the Book of Acts through the presumption of leadership development instead of an explanation of such leadership development. While not stated in the precept, the development of leadership does show up in practice. Jesus had declared that those leading his church would end up facing opposition along the lines of the opposition that he himself had faced as a consequence of his preaching and activities. Post Pentecost experiences of the early church leaders very amply proved this through the virulent opposition civil and religious leaders in Jerusalem. In the practice of urban shalom therefore, people can take on a leadership role by organizing fund raising campaigns for orphanages, old age homes and for shelters meant for the homeless. A leadership role can also be undertaken when practicing urban shalom, during the organization of blood donation camps and when carrying out campaigns for spreading awareness about HIV Aids.
Sociological and Missiological Perspectives on Kindness in Urban Context
Leadership, as played out in the practice of urban shalom has a sociological basis too. Leadership is recognized more often than not, as something that modifies organizational behavior. It is personal in character and it is founded upon individual accomplishment or pre-eminence in particular fields of behavior. Superior intelligence, superior tact, superior will power, superior strength and superior knowledge all have a vital role to play as far as the attainment of leadership is concerned. What is needed in addition to all these wonderful qualities is the ability to set fresh goals, to have lofty new goals when placed in charge of a group of people and to make this group of people understand what its potentialities are. In the urban framework and in the practice of shalom in particular, people can demonstrate leadership when imparting education or training people about social ills and problems and how to suitably get these resolved. Leadership can clearly be shown when implementing important social campaigns like a campaign to end drug and alcohol addiction. Those in leadership positions should first make the campaigners understand the dangers of drug and alcohol addiction, draw up a plan of action and follow up to make sure that this plan of action is being implemented to perfection.
That leadership forms an integral part of missionary work is something that is most definitely quite well known. Christian missions are organized missions whose efforts are directed towards the spread of Christianity. Since missionary work does entail sending out individuals as well as groups to different countries of the world for proselytism, it is imperative for those who are involved in missionary endeavors to take on a leadership role and preach the word of god in the various geographical destinations where they carry out their work in. More often than not missionaries engage in heavy duty charity work in the different locations that they are lodged in. They have to take a leading role in organizing blood donation campaigns, vaccination campaigns and campaigns that are aimed at informing people about the dangers of sexual diseases. This is especially true for missions that are undertaken in developing parts of the globe, such as in the remote corners of Africa and Latin America. Even the simple act of preaching the word of God requires leadership skills. Missionaries need to be convincing enough with those they talk to about the greatness and goodness of God and why following their chosen path is the right thing for people to do. The practice of urban shalom entails show-casing the kind of leadership that missionaries often show when they are carrying out their humanitarian activities, spreading the word of the Gospel etc. Urban shalom is also something that requires those who get involved in it to organize and direct campaigns for social welfare. For instance, leadership is definitely going to be needed if people engage in giving talks and lectures about the importance of following God’s word, about being on the path of God in general and by staying away from the type of sins that can only alienate people from God rather than take them closer to the path of salvation. Such people have to convince those who are listening to them that being righteous and virtuous is the way to be and that by abstaining from sinful acts one can successfully take oneself closer to understanding and following the divine path. People organizing lectures and talks regarding the will and love of God, people organizing fund raising campaigns for AIDS and other sexual diseases, people taking charge of programs that are aimed at social welfare in general must lead from the front. They must make sure that all activities pertaining to their various campaigns and programs are implemented in the desired fashion and that those taking part in such programs are convinced of the word of God. Only then can the true essence of urban shalom be realized successfully.
Thus, both leadership and kindness are indeed two very important urban shalom practices that have strong biblical, sociological and missiological origins and which need to be implemented with care and consideration, if such practices are to have an impact at all on those towards whom these practices are being directed.
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